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Thailand: Is the government serious about eradicating poverty?

By Samart Mangsang, IHT Thai daily, January 25, 2006

Bangkok, Thailand -- The impoverished lack four basic necessities: food, clothing, shelter and access to medicines when ill. According to the Buddha’s teachings, there are two kinds of poor people.

The first kind are penniless. They don?t have enough money to support a reasonable standard of living. The second kind lack virtue ? they lack the basic moral goodness of a civilized human being and are devoid of tolerance, diligence and humility.

Of the two kinds of poor people, those who lack virtue often cause problems for themselves and those around them. The virtuous poor on the other hand are capable of living peacefully with others in society if they can make ends meet and are satisfied with their lot.

The penniless who also lack morality suffer doubly and can adversely affect those around them.

Although poverty is usually associated with underdeveloped and developing countries, it also exists in developed nations. The severity of the problem depends on several factors: the richness of the natural resources available to the people, access to training, and the effectiveness of the government in solving the problems of the people.

The first point is self-explanatory: if a rural area lacks fertility or is poorly irrigated the agricultural workers will obviously have difficulties ? the Northeast of Thailand is as an example.

The second point refers to the abilities of the workforce. Someone living in an urban environment who is untrained and poorly educated will find it hard to get a well-paid job.

Finally, it is the responsibility of the government and its leader to ensure that people have access to education and the training they need if society is to develop.

The three factors together would lead to poverty in any society. And the poor are caught in a poverty trap that entails borrowing to meet household expenses, and then working to service those loans. And of course if they haven?t got enough to look after themselves and their families, they will hardly have the means to provide the best education for their children ? who are destined to get caught up in the poverty cycle of their parents.

Buddhism teaches us that every problem has a cause and that to deal effectively with the problem we have to deal effectively with the causes. Therefore, if we want to eradicate poverty we first have to consider its root causes.

If we were to try and tackle farmers? poverty, we might start by finding out if the land that farmers are working is capable of supporting them: if their plots of land are large enough and fertile enough. One might also investigate whether the farmers have the means to invest in the land: buy seeds and machinery. If they lack sufficient income, then they will be forced to take out loans and meet interest payments.

At harvest time, the quality of their produce should be assessed to determine whether it meets the demands of the market place.

Should the farmers? produce exceed market demands, the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry should advise them how to achieve the best price for their products. The ministry might even subsidize the price to make the goods more competitive.

And finally, prior to the next growing season, the government might advise farmers on the best crops to grow in their areas ? to meet both domestic and international demand.

In order to systematically solve the problems being faced by farmers, the government needs to communicate with both the farmers and the middlemen. Moreover, poverty eradication must be a long-term measure. If the government only touches the surface of the problem, as was seen during the At Samat reality TV show, it will not go away, and the public will accuse the government of playing politics.

One has to ask whether sleeping in a local temple, riding motorcycles, listening to villagers? problems and handing out cash will actually solve the problem of poverty in the area. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra also invited ambassadors from 38 countries to observe his so-called ?poverty-eradication? performance, which was broadcast by UBC. Even before the five-day event finished, several regular government critics, such as Thirayuth Boonmee, called the program a soap opera. Samak Sundaravej, who hosts a program that is staunchly pro-Thaksin, disparaged the reality TV show?s organizers for letting the media mock the prime minister.

The prime minister may have been able to convince villagers, who are generally poorly educated, that the government is serious about solving their problems, but the better-educated urban middle class who are more politically savvy are harder to seduce.

Although some of these people may have voted for the Thai Rak Thai party, it is conceivable that they have started to question whether the government is transparent and honest. And a number of the 19 million people who voted for the TRT party in the last election may no longer support the party ? especially after watching Thaksin?s performance on TV.

Those people who have deserted the Thai Rak Thai party should make their opinions known through the media so that the government can get a truer picture of just how large its support base really is.


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